INSIGHTS: ONLINE ANNUAL REPORTS - WHICH APPROACH IS BEST?
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An area of ongoing controversy in the corporate reporting industry is the online annual report. There is not one best approach that will suit all companies. The options that are available are a Year in Review, a full HTML report and a hybrid approach. The Year in Review is a single web page that gives the key highlights and story of the company’s year, a full HTML report is a website that contains all of the content within the Annual Report and a hybrid approach is an option that utilises multiple web pages to display key content from the Annual Report.
The indecision over the best approach to online reporting is shown in the statistics of the online reporting choices of the FTSE 100 companies. 40% of the FTSE 100 do not have any online reporting beyond the PDF of the Annual Report, 47% have a Year in Review online report, 9% have a hybrid online report and 4% have a full HTML online report.
The benefits of the full HTML report is that the content of the entire Annual Report is available in a responsive format, ensuring a good experience for users across all devices. It makes it easier to navigate the Annual Report content, with it being easier to move between sections and quickly get to the content that the user is looking for. With the Year in Review and hybrid approach, a large amount of content in the Annual Report is still only viewable in PDFs and so, offers a poor user experience when viewing the majority of the content in the Annual Report. The use of the full HTML format shows a serious commitment to stakeholders who choose to view the Annual Report online.
The key benefit of the Year in Review and hybrid approaches is that it allows companies to present a summary of their year, directing users to the most important points. As the content is more limited, they represent a more cost-effective option than full HTML reports. This means that they are likely to appeal to companies with a smaller market cap, and, for larger companies, it means that more investment can be made to ensure that this content is engaging and makes the best use of interactive functionality. The limited amount of information on Year in Reviews and hybrids make them easier to digest and increases the likelihood that the company will have effectively communicated their key messaging to users.
However, such limited content could potentially lead to frustrations for users, as it could be that the content that has been selected does not interest them, and therefore delays the time it takes for them to find out what they are looking for. A hybrid approach is more favourable under this consideration than a Year in Review, as the higher number of pages in a hybrid report allows for more content to be elevated, and more likely that users will be shown content that is of interest to them.
Another benefit of the Year in Review and hybrid approach is that it is easy to embed them in a company’s corporate website, making it easy for users to discover the online report. Full HTML reports are always created as microsites that draw users away from the corporate website.
There is not one clear answer as to what a company should do for its online reporting. The best online reporting format will be determined by a company’s needs, budget and what it aims to achieve with its reporting.